Monday, May 5, 2014

Chapter Six - My Little Writing Project

To refresh your memory about previous chapters, or to know about My Little Writing Project, click here

‘If I spin a web of words, would you be willing to lose yourself in it’

31st May 2012

And as it so happens when you are dreading something, time passes all the more quickly, the next week went by in a blink of an eye. The appointed day arrived and Mukti wished that something would happen and the meeting would be postponed. She held the Ganesha locket in her hand.

God, you know I tried everything… I cleaned up my Feng Shui, I took a break, I even read Kinsella and Weisberger for inspiration, I wrote a blog post, I snooped around on Facebook . . . But, still I have got nothing to show Mr. Editor.

She was glaring at the phone so hard willing it to ring and bring some good news.

 I can’t believe I am hoping that the meeting with an actual publisher will get postponed. I can’t believe I have screwed my chance! God, this is so not fair!!

Tired with thinking, she picked up the newspaper to divert her mind from her impending fate.

“NDA has called for a Bharat Bandh because of the petrol price hike!” Mukti kept on reading with growing anticipation, “maybe the meeting will be postponed. It says here almost 50,000 autos and around 15,000 taxis would be joining the Bandh and NDA has even threatened to block some intersections.”

Main pareshaan, pareshaan, pareshaan, pareshaan . . .  Aatishein woh kahaan . . .

That was her phone’s ring tone... describing her mood of the day!

Could it be . . . ?

She looked at the screen flashing an unknown number and willing herself not to have high hopes, answered it.

“Hi . . . is this Mukti?” asked the voice.
“Yes, this is she,” she replied, “May I know who am I speaking with?”
“Hi, Mukti. I am Prakash. We are supposed to meet today?” then added pointlessly, “I am the editor from Mehta, Kumar and Roy publishing.”

That sounds like a law firm!

“Oh. Hi. How are you?”
“I am good. Listen, I am running a little late. I hope you have not already reached. Can we postpone the meeting . . .”

Yes!! Yes!! Let us postpone it for next week!

“. . . To four pm instead of two. I hope that is fine?” asked Prakash, “After that I am quite busy and won’t be able to take time out.”

Bloody bloomers!

“But, isn’t today the strike? I was reading in the newspapers that today is Bharat Bandh?” she asked hopefully.
“Oh, is it? Maybe that’s why there are so many diversions and jams. But other than that it is fine. Do you have a problem coming down?”
“No, not at all.” She added hastily, “So, I will see you at four pm at your office?”
“Can you come to Connaught Place instead? I am going out for a meeting there so I would catch up with you in CP only. There is a Barista in the outer circle. I’ll meet you there. Alright?”
“Yup, sure. Bye,” and she hung up.

Mukti looked up and said, “Dear God, when I said postpone, I meant by days and not by hours. I guess I had to be more specific!”

She looked at the formal trouser she had picked out for today’s meeting but decided against it. She took out her regular pair of denims and matched it with a crisp white shirt. She strapped on her watch, brushed her hair and tied them up loosely. She applied her trademark kohl and nude gloss. Another look in the mirror and she was ready. She picked up her smartest bag – Gucci, a gift from his brother on rakhi.

 I am 27 and all the nice things I own are gifts! How humiliating is that?!

She stuffed her manuscript inside the bag. She posed in front of the mirror twirling this way and that. She caressed the bag lovingly.

She was just about to leave when she hesitated as if remembering something. She went up to her dresser and rummaged about in the back and finally extracted her arm which contained a single black  manila folder. She stuffed it into her bag as well and left closing the door behind her. She walked till the main road to get a mode of transport. It was the peak of summers and the sun was shining in all its glory. She carried a scarf with which she covered her head. She put on a pair of shades and started walking briskly looking down at the road. She decided to splurge a little and go for an auto instead of a bus. Mukti waited for almost half an hour, tapping her feet impatiently all the while, to get an auto. The usual haggling session followed and it took her another ten minutes before she was seated comfortably inside. She took off her scarf and plugged in her earphones. After taking numerous auto and cab rides, she had come to the conclusion that earphones not only helped in fighting boredom during long rides but also discouraged some of the talkative drivers from indulging her in meaningless conversations. She wasn’t listening to music though. She was thinking about the meeting. She was dreading meeting Prakash. She didn’t know what to tell him. She didn’t have any plausible excuse rather than the truth that she was going through a writer’s block.

He might understand. He is in the publishing industry. It is completely natural for writers to suffer from writer’s block. He has to understand if he is a professional. He has to give me another appointment. She kept muttering to herself.

“He will understand,” she realized too late that she had started talking to herself and the auto driver was looking at her from the rear-view mirror with a confused expression on his face.

“Can you look at the road?” She said pointedly and curled her fingers around the bottle of her pepper spray inside her bag. He just shrugged his shoulders and looked straight ahead.

“He would reschedule. It will be fine.”

She tried to calm herself down. She looked out of the window and saw the world passing by in a blur. The cab had to take a few detours but nothing drastic. She finally reached Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi. Mukti loved coming here.

You can find almost anything. From expensive brands to roadside shack shopping in nearby Janpath . . . From high-profile lounges to the delicious Dilli chaat . . . It has everything. You should just know where to look.

She spotted the Barista and gestured the driver to stop. As she got out of the cab, she flinched trying to adjust to the loud sounds of the place, the honking cars, the whirring of traffic, the booming calls of the hawkers selling their wares on the pavement, the shuffling of feet, the chatter of people. She winced a little as she paid the driver almost twice the usual fare.

Damn these bandhs!

 She walked towards the entrance, stopping to look at the books spread out on the floor being sold for a pittance . . . A common sight in CP. She walked ahead resolutely.

I have already stretched my budget by splurging on the stupid auto.

Mukti pulled at the glass door that opened with a small ting of the bell attached to it and entered the cool environs of the cafe. A soothing instrumental jazz piece was playing in the background. She was familiar with the place. She had come here a couple of times with some friends. She looked around and spotted that her favorite table by the glass doors was empty. She liked sitting there as it offered her a nice view of both the inside and the outside. She could look at people walk by and at those who were seated inside. She was a little ashamed to admit it, even to herself, but she liked eavesdropping . . . getting a glimpse into a stranger’s life. That was also one of the reasons why she loved Facebook so much. She could snoop around and see who was doing what, who was dating whom, who was working where and all that.  She was not proud of it but she was addicted to knowing what is happening in other’s life. It gave her a diversion from not looking at her own and seeing the missing links or figuring out what was wrong with it.

Maybe Priya is right? I am addicted. Well, never mind that now.

Since it was a workday, there were not many people inside the coffee shop. A woman immaculately dressed with manicured hands was on her phone, talking animatedly and almost seemed like she was fighting with someone. There was a group of men dressed in formals that were eating sandwiches and laughing loudly with a casual arrogance of the self-crowned cool-dude achievers. She saw a teen couple sat close together and murmur sweet nothings into each other. A man with unkempt curly hair and a cigarette dangling limply from his lips was bent down over a laptop, typing furiously.

A waiter came to take her order, “Oh, I am waiting for someone. Can you come back a little later?” She asked politely. He went away without saying anything. She turned and looked outside. It was almost four in the afternoon but the road was filled with innumerable cars and buses each with the ubiquitous ‘Delhi Dent’ that all cars in the capital seemed to be branded with. The pavement was full of people hurrying along without stopping, just like an army of ants… Each aware of their self-importance. Nobody said anything, nobody stopped to look at each other, and nobody smiled. Everyone just walked on ahead determinedly.

Everyone seems to be in such a hurry. People have forgotten how to enjoy life. It’s such a beautiful day. All wasted. Just to make a decadent living, people are forgetting about the really important things in life. Ooh that is good, I should write it down.

She took out her diary and pen, and wrote it down. She again glanced outside. This time she could see a small girl dressed in a torn and faded lehenga-choli asking for alms from a man seated in a BMW that had stopped at the signal. He rolled down his windows and gestured at the girl, rather rudely, to go away as he didn’t have any money. The girl said something to him, made a face and ran off. Mukti couldn’t hear anything but she knew what obscenities the girl might have uttered. She felt deeply sorry for the little girl who was shouting out swear-words when she should have been reciting poems, studying, going to school. . .As if on cue, a couple in their early teens wearing school uniform walked in hand-in-hand. They sat at a far-away corner and Mukti definitely saw the guy slip his hand under the girl’s skirt.

Well, that never happened when we went to school!                                                                          

She wondered why the editor had asked for a meeting at a coffee shop. She knew that many corporate and agencies that dealt with creativity preferred coffee shops instead of dreary cubicles. But, she was hoping that it would be all business-like. She didn’t usually wear it but for this meeting she had got her formal trousers and shirt all laid out neatly on the bed. Now because of the change of venue, she thought a business outfit would be too much and decided to go informally formal.

She looked at her watch. It was five minutes past four.
Someone is late.
Mukti sighed and looked back at the traffic outside when she saw a good looking guy walking towards the café. He was also wearing faded blue jeans with a white shirt and had rolled up his sleeves. He had a laptop bag with him. He wore glasses that added to his good looks. As he opened the glass door, a gust of warm air entered the cafe with him. The time it took for the door to close, the soft jazz music of the café (which in itself was a relief from the ditzy nightclub like thumping beats playing everywhere else during the day) was replaced with cars honking and the shrill yells of the vendors trying to make a sale. The door closed and the comforting jazz music took over. Mukti’s eyes followed the man discreetly as he came inside and looked around. He suddenly turned back and looked straight at Mukti.

Oh shit!
She immediately averted her gaze and pretended to be engrossed in what she was writing in her diary. The guy came up to her and asked, “Excuse me? Are you Mukti?”

Mukti looked up and saw him smiling politely.
He has a dimple! Strike one!
“Mukti?” he asked again.
“Yes!” She replied realizing that he is talking to her, “yes, I am Mukti.”
His face broke into a big smile, “Hi, I am Prakash. We spoke on the phone,” he said extending his hand.

Oh Fuck! Why did he have to be so good-looking!
“Hi, nice to meet you.” Mukti said shaking his hand and smiling.
“Sit, sit.”
He sat down and took off his laptop bag. He ran a hand through  his hair and called for the waiter. Mukti stared at him like a love struck puppy.

“It is really hot today, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” she said dreamily.

Oh God I sound like one of these teenagers. Get a hold on yourself, Mukti!
She sat up straighter. After ordering a cappuccino for himself and a lemon iced tea for Mukti, Prakash came down to business.

“So, Arti told me that you are an up and coming writer.”

Will you just stop smiling so that I can concentrate.

Mukti noted that he had perfect white teeth. When Prakash cleared his throat, Mukti realized that he had asked a question. She also noticed that she had bent her face sideways and was looking at him dreamily again. She snapped into attention, straightened her neck and picked up the glass of iced tea that the waiter was offering. She took a sip and answered, “Oh I don’t know about that. I am sure she is exaggerating.”

And when you will read what I have got, you will think that too!

“I hope not. Anyway, before I read what you have written. Why don’t you tell me what the novel is all about.”


“Uh . . . sure. Well, I am writing a romantic… thriller,” she said making it up as she went along.

“Hmm . . .. Please go on.”

 “It’s about a girl who goes to a . . . uh . . . small town for a break and there something happens with her that shakes her up. Uh . . . then she comes back, and she is very scared to tell anyone what happened to her. Uh . . . then,” she stopped and decided to try the truth for a change, “actually I am a little stuck after that. But I would work something out. I promise.”

“What is that something that happens to her there?” he sipped his cappuccino.
“Uh . . . I am not too sure, but I will figure that out too . . . soon.”

You sound like such a dimwit!!

Prakash smiled again but this time it was a sarcastic one,
 “Mukti, if you are not prepared for the meeting, you should have told me. I don’t like to waste my time. I only agreed for this as a favor to a very dear friend of mine who assured me that you are a very talented writer. I hope you know that this meeting is not the norm. Generally, writers just send in their manuscripts to the office.”

“I know everything,” She bent down and got out the black manila folder from her bag. She put it on the table.
“What is this?”
“This is a file with all my rejection letters.”
“You think it’s a good idea to show a potential publisher that you have been rejected so many times before?”
“This is my rejection file,” Mukti continued on as if she hadn’t listened to Prakash, “I have eighteen rejection letters in total. All in the last one year since the time I have actively started writing. And these eighteen letters and emails are the people who were kind enough to respond. Most of the publishers just send an auto-reply that says they have received my manuscript and they would get back. But, they never do. I am sure you know that.”

Prakash didn’t say anything. He just stared back at her.
“Nobody even wanted to publish my short story in an anthology. So, can you imagine my excitement when Priya, my friend, tells me that she can arrange a meeting with an actual publisher? What range of emotions I might have gone through? I was both scared and thrilled at the prospect. I know editors don’t meet wannabe writers. I know you must have million other important things to take care off. But, this meeting was my one-in-a-million chance and I blew it!”

She paused to stop herself from crying.
“I am sorry if I wasted your time. It’s just that I was so anxious that I couldn’t write. This is my dream and when Priya told me about this opportunity, I got so excited. I tried to write but I couldn’t. I guess I was so scared of getting another rejection letter, scared of screwing it up so bad that I actually did,” she said almost on the verge of tears.

I will not cry. I will not cry.

“I am so sorry,” she choked back tears, “I have let myself down and disappointed Priya too . . . and I have wasted your time. I am so sorry.”

“It’s ok.”
He handed her couple of tissues.
Mukti nodded and dried her eyes. When she calmed down, Prakash asked her, “If you don’t mind can I ask you something?”
Mukti nodded. Prakash picked up the file and flicked through it carelessly, “Why do you want to be a writer so badly?”

Mukti thought a little, “Ever since I was a little girl I have always been fascinated with stories. My mom used to recite all these fairy tales to me before bed and I loved losing myself in those places and situations. I wanted to be the princess of all those tales.” She smiled a little at the memory. “As I grew older I realized that all those places in that fairy tale . . . they were not real, they were make-believe. It was someone’s imagination at work. I guess that was the first thing that attracted me. . . The power of imagination, the power of words. The fact that someone has the ability to create a different reality, an alternate world with just some words strung together. I want to be able to do the same. I want people to lose themselves in my words. I want them to disconnect from reality and live, even for a couple of hours, in a world that I create for them.”

“But you don’t have any world to create? You have no plot. You don’t have a story to tell,” he said matter-of-factly. He picked out a page and started reading it, eyes focused intently and darting across the page.

“I know I don’t have anything substantial right now. But this writer’s block can’t grip me forever. I know this is temporary. I know it will go away. All I need is a chance . . . technically a second chance,” she added hesitatingly and smiled hopefully.

Prakash looked up at her and smiled back. He put down the paper on the table, finished his coffee and looked at his watch.

“Okay fine. I will give you a second chance and I will forgive you for wasting my time but only on one condition. That next time you buy me a coffee.”

“What?” Mukti was taken aback at the implication “Is it even allowed?!”

Is it allowed?!I should have been angry! Outraged! This guy just made an indecent proposal! But he is so good looking. Gorgeous. Just look at those dimples.

He laughed. “Let me make one thing clear I am asking you on a date, like a gentleman. I am not propositioning you to sleep with me neither am I proposing that if you go out with me, I will publish your book. I am just saying that you take some time, like a fortnight and work on your ideas. Till then, if you like, we can go out and you can use me as a sounding board. What do you think?”

Yes!! Yes!! Yes!!

“Uh . . . I don’t know . . .” Mukti shrugged her shoulders.

Never let a guy know that you are interested in him. You lose all importance in his eyes. Guys like a little chase.

“Ok. You think about it. I have to rush, I have another meeting. You have my number. Call me when you decide whether you want to fix up an appointment or an appointment plus a date. Take care,” He paid the bill and left . . . smiling.

Mukti looked at his retreating back and then at the page he had left on the table. It was kind of an 'autobiographical short' she had written for a magazine a couple of months back when she was trying to convince everyone around her as well as herself why was she doing what she was doing – living alone, always broke, participating in every writing contest she could find on the internet in the hope of getting published… the time when she was still trying to understand why does she want to write. She had taken inspiration from her own life and projected her thoughts to an unnamed woman. The article was published in a small-time magazine and reaffirmed her faith that she could be a writer one day. However, she didn’t remember putting it in the file. She read through the page again and looked up.

Well, good job, God… God job! So, he liked the way I write!

She put the file back in her bag and left the coffee shop smiling to herself too.

Priya called, just as Mukti was turning the key in the lock of her apartment door.

“So how was it? What did he say? Tell me everything from the beginning,” she said in one breath.

“Hold on . . . hold on. What are you talking about?” Mukti said teasing her.

“Mukti! You know very well what I am talking about. How was the meeting with that publisher guy, Prakash right?”

“You mean Mr. Dreamy? God, Priya he is so handsome! He is so good looking I wanted to cry just looking at him!”

“Stop irritating me! Tell me what happened with . . .Mr. Dreamy?” she said with distaste, “did he like your manuscript?”

“Not particularly . . .”

“He didn’t like you work and you are talking about how handsome he is? This is what I keep telling you about . . .”

“Hold your horses, woman! I didn’t say he didn’t like my work,” Mukti elaborated the whole story of how Prakash found one of her abandoned article in her rejection file.

“That was quite a co-incidence!”

“I know! So, he liked my work, and apparently he liked me too. That’s why he asked me out and gave me an extension!” Mukti told Priya excitedly.

“Will you go out with him?”

“I don’t know. Maybe . . . maybe not.” She said smiling to herself.

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